NAMIBIA: Namibia's Women Remain on the Fringes of Mainstream Politics

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The Southern Times
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

Windhoek - Namibia's political parties have paid a lot of lip service and demonstrated lack of commitment to mainstreaming gender issues and incorporating women in leadership positions, lobbyists have said.

Women of different political persuasions have recommended that they be included more in the drafting of parties' manifestos and policies and that those policy documents should have clear cut positions on women's participation.

They also propose to engage political parties in gender training.

So far, no political party in Namibia has been ever headed by a woman, neither have women dominated the top party leadership structures.

This is reflected in Namibia's Parliament where out of 78 members, women number only 20.

The situation in opposition parties is even direr, as only two women are MPs.

According to a study titled “The Analysis of Political Parties Policy”, by Eunice Iipinge, a SWAPO MP, “Although women are active in the political parties, it seems political parties only use them for votes and organisation as well as to attend rallies.”

Iipinge presented the study at a recent meeting organised for political parties represented in the Fifth Parliament of Namibia to analyse policy documents from a gender perspective in Namibia.

The report points out that some political parties have written rules and procedures for elections into the highest decision-making positions, but that those rules are gender-blind and tend to favour men at the expense of women.

According to the study, political parties' policy documents contained few details and largely generalised promises about promoting gender equality.

The study analysed the policy documents and constitutions of all nine political parties in Namibia that are represented in Parliament.

It stated, “Political party elitism and the male dominance makes it difficult for women to enter into politics as knowledge gets divided.”

There is also a contention that the symbols of the political parties send campaign messages in favour of men as the key players in politics and decision-making.

While it is recognised that political parties have a representative democratic system, the study points out that the outcomes of internal party elections do not reflect the membership base of the electorate.

Through the course of the 20th century, there were 46 female presidents and prime ministers worldwide. Many of these served for short periods, sometimes less than a year.

Three of these leaders were from Africa: Elizabeth Domitien (1975-76) of the Central African Republic; Sylvie Kinigi of Burundi; and Agathe Uwilingiyimana of Rwanda. The last two served as prime ministers in 1993-94.

In the category of heads of state, in Africa there are presently two: President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and President Joyce Banda of Malawi.

There are five female prime ministers in the world, two of whom are from Africa; Mozambique's Luísa Días Diogo and Maria das Neves Ceita Batista de Sousa of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The others are from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and New Zealand.

President Johnson-Sirleaf is the second elected black female Head of State in history while also being the second female leader of Liberia after Ruth Sando Fahnbulleh Perry, who as chairwoman of the Council of State assumed the leadership of the country after the overthrow of President Samuel Doe.

In Namibia, the highest office a woman has held is that of Deputy Prime Minister, which was held by Libertina Amathila (2005-2010).

In Sub-Saharan Africa, progress towards achieving gender equality and women's empowerment has been modest, but several countries have been spearheading policies that address women's needs.

One of the most notable achievements has been to elevate the debate on gender to the national level, with countries like Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso and Liberia integrating gender concerns into their national development plans and poverty reduction strategies.

However, progress in women's political representation has sometimes been remarkable.

The South African election of April 2009 saw women's representation in Parliament rise to 45 percent (from 34 percent before the poll).

Uganda's Parliament now comprises 30.9 percent women, while in Rwanda the proportion of women legislators is the highest in the world at 56 percent.

On gender equality in education, countries such as Botswana and Rwanda have met the Millennium Development Goal target of universal access to 10 years of basic education for boys and girls.

At regional level, institutions have stepped up their efforts.

For example, in partnership with UNDP, the UN's Economic Commission for Africa has adopted a specific gender equality measuring tool, the African Gender and Development Index, and established the African Women's Rights Observatory to monitor the status of African women's rights, raise awareness and create a forum for knowledge and experience sharing among countries.